MABEN – For the East Webster softball team, home never felt so good.
In the first event to be held on the Wolverines' campus since storms devastated Cumberland on April 27, East Webster upended Hatley 3-0 on Thursday to take a 1-0 lead in this best-of-three series for the Class 2A North championship.
"The girls were so excited to be back home," said East Webster head coach Meleah Brown. "We had huge fan support, the girls were up and we couldn't have asked for a better setting."
Fueled by her surroundings, Wolverines starting pitcher Swayze Hollenhead pitched all seven innings of the victory as the Mississippi State signee kept Hatley off the scoreboard by allowing just two total hits while striking out four.
Hollenhead's counterpart, Hatley's Lesley Hudson, also went the distance for her team, but the Wolverines (19-6) were able to keep the pressure on Hudson by putting at least one runner on base in each inning.
The Wolverines' ability to get to Hudson was at least in part a tribute to the work of Brown, a former pitcher herself.
Being familiar with Hudson's ability to change speeds effectively after Hatley defeated East Webster twice in the regular season, Brown felt it was time for her to drag out her own glove this week in order to prepare her Wolverines.
"This whole week, I knew what (Hudson) was going to do," said Brown. "We've faced her four times in the last two years. We knew she would throw fastballs and changeups constantly, trying to keep the girls off balance.
"Normally Swayze pitches live to the girls, but she doesn't have a very good changeup so I had to break out my cleats this week and pitch to the girls. I woke up every morning sore as could be after throwing fastballs and changeups."
Brown's plan proved to be key.
After coming up empty over the first and second innings against Hudson, East Webster broke a scoreless tie in the home half of the third with a three-run frame.
Chloe Roberson and Katie Gordon started the rally by reaching base and advancing to second and third with no one out.
Autumn Frost then drove in Roberson with a hard ground ball to second that wasn't handled cleanly.
Cayley McClellan then came through with a sacrifice fly to drive home Gordon and make it 2-0, but Frost was thrown out trying to advance to third on the play.
One batter later, Hollenhead laced a ground-rule double to left field that was followed by a run-scoring single off the bat of Bailey Williams.
Hollenhead said a large portion of the credit for East Webster's big inning goes to Brown.
"Her pitching to us earlier in the week helped tremendously," said Hollenhead. "She's such a smart pitcher and coach, and she pulled out all the stops to help us for this series."
Hatley had its best chance to score immediately following East Webster's big third inning.
In the top of the fourth, DeAnna Wright led off the inning with a triple, but was left stranded at third base as Hollenhead wiggled out of trouble courtesy of two infield pop outs and a ground out.
"That was huge," said Brown. "They get a leadoff triple and we keep them from scoring. Things like that are what it takes. Just a total team effort."
Brown hopes to get more of the same out of her team on Saturday when the series resumes with a second and possibly third game beginning at 2 p.m.
Hollenhead says she is ready to try and punch East Webster's ticket into the state championship series.
"We're going to go up there Saturday and hopefully get the job done the first game," said Hollenhead. "Whatever happens, we just have to play as a team."